Finding Philosophy's God: The Hierarchy of Reality

Basically, this is how I think of things. It's a work in progress that I'm hammering out.

The Question

We define something's reality by what it depends on to be true. Something is physically real if its truth depends on the foundational truths (whatever they may be) of physics; something is logically real if its truth depends on the laws of logic.

We are physically real. The universe is physically real. Mathematical statements and things of that nature are logically real. But what do the foundational truths of physics and logic depend on?

The Answer


I am not speaking of a personal God (in Whom I do, however, believe). I am speaking definitionally: God is defined to be the truth upon which all other truths depend.

God has been defined before as the First Cause, referring to temporal causality. I am expanding this definition: not only does physical reality depend upon God, but all reality and truth depend upon him.

Since almost everyone can agree that everything has a cause of some sort - physical or otherwise - not many people should have a problem believing in this God. We understand that things need explanations. We just generally don't think of the laws of physics or logic as things that need explaining. (Of course, if they don't need explaining, then they are the truth on which all other truths depend, and God becomes a list of physical and logical principles that sort of self-created. This makes a little sense with the rules of logic, which people see as self-evident. Not so with the rules of physics.)

The Strange Opinion

We're familiar with discussing God as supernatural. I contend that God is superreal; he exists ontologically above our reality. I'm going to offer an analogy to explain this.

Children (and some adults) have imaginary friends. If the child ceased to exist, the imaginary friend would cease to exist, because its (non-physical) existence depends on the child.

We are God's imaginary friends.

Why is this definition important?

It establishes that everyone must believe in something arbitrary, that is independent of physical reality. If certain aspects of the physical truths are independent of the logical truths (although physics does depend upon mathematics, specific physical ratios do not), then our universe is arbitrary, because it could have been some other way. Which means that physicalism doesn't really make sense.


(Note that we are still nowhere near Yahweh.)


Spaceman Spiff said...

I'll keep pushing the point that it really isn't clear that any physical ratios are independent of mathematics or logic. It simply that we have not found any dependence, which is subtly but significantly different from having demonstrated independence.

Physics has a history of figuring expanding the mathematical apparatus in such a way that what once appeared disjointed and arbitrary is shown to be connected and logically dependent.

Take the speed of light. Before electromagnetic theory, the speed of light could be measured with accuracy. At that point it must have appeared abitrary. But with the development of Maxwell's equations, the speed of light was shown to be the logically necessary speed of an electromagnetic wave.

Surely you'll notice that this leaves the question of why are the electric and magnetic constants what they are. Obviously the theory is incomplete, and it might always be. But even if physics were *never* described in a way that demonstrated all physical laws and constants to be logically necessary, that would not be enough to show that it wasn't actually so.

The other thing I'll push on a little bit is your claim to have shown physicalism to be incoherent. It's certainly coherent to suggest that all that lies at the bottom is logic itself, if what I've said about physics is accurate. Another possibility (though I personally find it silly I can't call it incoherent) is the many-universes type of theory: all possibilities happen, so our universe is simply one possibility for the physical constants, and thus no longer abitrary.

What I find most unconvincing about physicalism is that it would seem to fail to give ontological status to personhood, to love, and to goodness. Those things seem fundamentally real to me, and while they may be able to be described as phenomena by science, I don't think their reality can be *explained* by it.

I really like your analogy about our reality depending on God's reality. I think that's a great way of describing a difficult point. I would normally say something like God's reality is underneath ours, undergirding it, and thus use descriptors like more fundamental. But above and superreal seem to be getting at the same thing from another direction, so to speak.

Keep it up! This is good stuff.

Speaker for the Dead said...

Well, because the way we define axioms in mathematics and logic is as self-evident truths, it is probably fair to say we know of them all; if there are ones we don't know, then they aren't self-evident.

But I can't imagine anyone's even conceiving of a way to prove physical ratios and physical facts (such as the amount of matter and energy in the universe) strictly through mathematical axioms. How do you go from the laws of arithmetic to the mass of a proton?

The example you mentioned illustrates how our knowledge of physics can be boiled down to fewer and fewer arbitrary relationships. But I don't see how it can be boiled down to zero. And even if it can be, there must also be a way to prove that the universe had to exist, that it could not simply not be. Otherwise, its existence itself is arbitrary.

The multiverse theory still seems incoherent to me, because it basically is an attempt to reconcile two contradictory "facts":

1. The universe as we know it behaves in an orderly manner and is governed by immutable natural laws. (You might argue about the immutable part, but if you do, then I'll ask what the big deal is with miracles...)

2. The behavior of subatomic particles seems to be random (or at least unpredictable).

Physicalism itself seems incoherent to me because of what I wrote at the beginning of this comment. Every single physical truth would have to be contingent on the very few (and very abstract) collection of mathematical and logical axioms. (I wish it were "axia.")

Thanks for the comment.

Spaceman Spiff said...

I don't necessarily think anyone will ever succeed at proving there are zero arbitrary constants, but I also don't think anyone can show that there are any. It's at least possible to imagine a "Theory of Everything" that boiled down to an equation that couldn't be any other way.

And if, as you say, this would still involve leave as arbitrary the fact that the universe exists at all, then I must ask how positing God as an explanation does any better? It would just seem to push the question one step further back rather than answering it.

At the end of it I have to say I think the only way any answer could be non-arbitary is if reality in general is necessary, which is to say logically necessary.

Speaker for the Dead said...

I can't really envision a logically necessary Theory of Everything. I can imagine having only one TOE to explain our particular universe, but that still doesn't explain why the TOE or the universe is the way it is; it's just a universal description of the data.

But I've thought about what you said, about how God is just as arbitrary as a TOE. Which, of course, is true. But God is allowed to be an independent (or non-contingent or necessary or uncaused) truth, but physical truths can't be true just because.

That is to say, if there exists a TOE that completely explains our physical reality (down to the exact amount of energy and why the Big Bang happened and why anything even exists, etc.), it would be God, and it would be arbitrary. And because it would be arbitrary (i.e., it could change and still leave us with a coherent - albeit different - universe) it would be inexplicable. (Just like God.) So if it could do that, I would kind of be shafted, I guess - although how are you going to get any physical truth just from logical axioms? You really can't.

I'm still working on this. I'm going to try to outline it soon. Give it a cool name and such. I'm basically broadening the kalam cosmological argument to include not just spatial and temporal causal relationships but truth (there should be a cool Greek or Latin adjective here) relationships. (I guess the cool Greek or Latin adjective could just be "logical.") God is the Uncaused Truth.